Art Sung – Edith Sitwell, Behind her Façade

Date: Friday 24th November 2023

Time: 7pm

Venue: London Song Festival, Hinde Street Methodist Church

Location: 19 Thayer St, London W1U 2QJ

Artists: Lucy Stevens - Contralto/Actress Michael Gibson - Tenor Elizabeth Mucha and Nigel Foster - Pianists James Symonds - Video Artist Roxani Eleni Garefalaki - Director and Movement

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2023 marks the centenary of the premier of Façade in 1923. Next year, 2024, marks the 60th anniversary of Edith Sitwell’s death: a perfect opportunity to revive and celebrate her wonderfully fantastic brand of artistry. In collaboration with the London Song Festival, Art Sung – Edith Sitwell – Behind her Façade is a semi-dramatised song recital which explores her unusual and eccentric life in her own words, both spoken and sung, beginning with her troubled childhood at Renishaw Hall in Derbyshire (where she fell in love with a peacock), leading to a life of celebrity and notoriety in London, Paris and America. It encompasses her encounters with various celebrities including Noël Coward, with whom she was on non-speaking terms for 40 years after he parodied her in a revue at the West End, and Marilyn Monroe with whom she got on famously much to everyone’s surprise. Settings of her poetry by Britten, Michael Head, Ned Rorem, R. R. Bennett, and Walton are at the core of this semi-dramatized recital as well as music by Noël Coward, Debussy, Satie, Bernstein, and the premiere of specially commissioned songs by Hayley Jenkins. Woven through the narrative of the recital will be the story of Façade, the extraordinary musical entertainment which Sitwell created together with the then unknown composer William Walton. She also became a favourite subject for painters such as Wyndham Lewis, Roger Fry, and Russian painter Pavel Tchelitchew. The aesthetics of the art world from this period are the inspiration for the bespoke visual material which accompanies the recital.

After the first private performance in 1922 Edith’s brother, Osbert Sitwell wrote, “as I heard the music I understood its genius, the incomparable manner in which the composer, who was not yet twenty years of age, had played with every idea, and matched, underlined and exhibited the words. For a composer who knew very little about poetry it was a huge achievement.”

As well as being highly entertaining, the poetry of Façade also offers us unique insights into Edith Sitwell’s own very personal world which she mainly kept hidden behind the façade of a flamboyant public persona.